We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
Today is Tuesday, Sept. 20, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Hornibrook or Houston? Chryst won’t say
If Alex Hornibrook really is going to be Wisconsin’s starting quarterback on Saturday against Michigan State, like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday, coach Paul Chryst isn’t saying.
After a lengthy opening statement, in which he said both Hornibrook and Bart Houston needed to prepare like they’ll play against the Spartans, the second-year coach was asked directly if Houston — the starter in the first three games — was still his No. 1.
Chryst: I'll let the week determine all this stuff (when asked about QB starter).
— Jason Galloway (@Jason_Galloway) September 19, 2016
That he’s not flat-out naming a starter is peculiar for him. Not one to normally play a guessing game with his quarterbacks, that’s exactly what it appears Chryst is doing just days from the biggest game in his head coaching career to this point. And it makes little sense.
For one, the two quarterbacks aren’t that much different from each other. It’s not like one is a dual threat, and the other your typical pocket passer. While they both have traits that the other doesn’t, the gap isn’t so significant that a team would drastically change its game plan depending on which guy was on the field.
If Chryst is legitimately having them compete again this week to see who will be under center, it’s a disservice to the whole team. The process should be way past this. Yes, it was a close competition in spring practice and fall camp, with Houston edging out Hornibrook and earning the right to start the season. But when you watch the two in a game, it’s clear that the younger Hornibrook gives Wisconsin the best chance to go on the road and win against a top 10 team.
Chryst on Hornibrook: "He looks the same in practice as he does in games. He doesn’t morph into someone else."
IMO, this is huge for a QB.
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) September 19, 2016
Chryst made his choice when he pulled Houston in the third quarter against Georgia State. After what Hornibrook did in that game — leading scoring drives on three of his four full possessions — it seems near impossible for the coach to look his players in the eyes and say Houston is the better choice.
Anyone want to play running back?
Wisconsin released its injury report on Monday afternoon, and three names stood out. Running backs Corey Clement, Taiwan Deal and Bradrick Shaw were all listed as questionable for the game against Michigan State. For those keeping track, that trio has combined for 427 of the 615 yards rushing the Badgers have so far this season.
Injury report: 3 RBs as questionable pic.twitter.com/02qBOSMRhC
— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) September 19, 2016
It seems like a dire situation for Wisconsin having to face the top-ranked rushing defense in the Big Ten this week in the Spartans. But senior Dare Ogunbowale, the lone healthy tailback that’s actually played this year, didn’t seem overly worried about the health of his teammates.
“The injury report is what we put out, but we’re pretty fine with where we’re at,” Ogunbowale said Monday. “The guys want to play, so they’re going to do what they can to be out on the field.
“We’ll see how this week goes with them feeling better and things like that, but if I know those guys, I’m expecting them to want to be out there.”
The way for Wisconsin to go on the road and upset Michigan State is to follow the same plan the team used against LSU. Control the clock, run the ball, limit mistakes and play tough defense. To do the first two, the Badgers will need Clement to be on the field, which after a week off to rest his ankle, seems likely to happen.
Red zone struggles
Among the bigger problem areas for Wisconsin on offense has been inside the opponents 20-yard line. As Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains, the Badgers are 12th in the Big Ten in red-zone efficiency, getting scores on 73.3 percent of their trips.
With Houston at the controls, the offense has scored on just 7 of 11 drives, including only four touchdowns. Meanwhile, in his limited opportunities, Hornibrook has put the ball in the end zone all four times he’s led a drive inside the red zone.
“It drives me nuts. Those are opportunities and you don’t know when you get them or how you get them,” Chryst said of the red zone issues.
“You appreciate the points when you can get them, but you’ve got to get touchdowns.”
On the four failed trips this season, two ended on a turnover, another when Wisconsin failed to convert on fourth down and one on a missed field goal.
The struggles almost came back to bite the Badgers against LSU and Georgia State. With the last seven games between Michigan State and Wisconsin being decided by an average of 4.9 points, you can be sure failures or successes in the red zone will be a key factor in the outcome.
Ramczyk living up to the billing
Wisconsin’s offensive line was among the bigger question marks coming into the season, including their new left tackle Ryan Ramczyk. As Mike Lucas of UWBadgers.com describes, the Stevens Point, Wis., native traveled quite the abnormal route to get where he is today. But that persistence has turned out to be a blessing for Wisconsin.
Rumors of Ramczyk’s ability started to leak out of the program last fall when he was more than holding his own on the scout team against All-American outside linebacker Joe Schobert, who would later call him the best offensive tackle he faced all of last year.
Three games in, and he’s proved to be worthy of the hype. In Week 1 against LSU, Pro Football Focus gave him the third-highest grade on the Badgers offense, while his Week 2 effort against Akron saw the junior graded as the top offensive tackle in the Big Ten.
“He has a 34-inch vertical, which is way higher than mine, way higher than a lot of the athletes on this team. He can move like he’s a little guy. He’s very technically sound. He’s very solid. I don’t get hit much from the backside. That’s always a good thing.” — quarterback Bart Houston
Yes, it’s still early, but there’s belief inside the program that Ramczyk is already the best lineman on the team. Those same people think that he’ll end up joining Chris McIntosh, Joe Thomas, Gabe Carimi and Rick Wagner among the greats that played left tackle at Wisconsin before then following their path to the NFL.